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FDA Report Reveals Airline Food Could Pose Health Threat

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USA Today
|  Many meals served to passengers on major airlines are prepared in unsanitary and unsafe conditions that could lead to illness, government documents examined by USA TODAY show.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors have cited numerous catering facilities that prepare airline food for suspected health and sanitation violations following inspections of their kitchens this year and last, according to inspection reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The inspections were at U.S. facilities of two of the world's biggest airline caterers, LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet, and another large caterer, Flying Food Group. The three caterers operate 91 kitchens that provide more than 100 million meals annually to U.S. and foreign airlines at U.S. airports. They provide meals for nearly all big airlines, including Delta, American, United, US Airways and Continental. (Photo credit: iStock)

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Spirit Airlines Cancels Flights

USA TodaySpirit Airlines is canceling all of its flights through Tuesday, stranding thousands more passengers as a pilot's strike continues into its second day.

The discount carrier said on its website Sunday that all Spirit Airlines flights have been cancelled through June 15. Spirit pilots walked off the job Saturday amid an ongoing contract dispute with the airline that has lasted for more than three years. Spirit pilots have said their pay lags behind competitors such as AirTran Airways and JetBlue.

"None of the planes are moving and none of our pilots have crossed the picket line," Paul Hopkins, strike committee chairman of Spirit's unit of The Air Line Pilots Association, said Sunday.

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Google Moves Into Online Travel Business

USA TodayGoogle, the world's most popular search engine, is expanding its reach in the lucrative online travel business. In March, Google added hotel links to its Maps application, listing hotels with room rates available to some users.

Google also is reportedly in talks to pay $1 billion to acquire ITA Software, which develops fare-shopping software for online travel agencies, airlines and fare-search-only sites, such as Bing Travel and Kayak.

Incorporating fares into Google search results would keep customers more engaged in its applications while they plan for travel, a prospect that could unnerve other fare sites. Users would be able to type in their destination and travel dates, and see flights and prices.

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United, Continental Could Announce Merger Monday

USA TodayUnited and Continental airlines have reached the precipice of a merger agreement that their executives hope to announce on Monday, a source involved in the negotiations said Friday.

The announcement hinges on the boards of both airlines approving the deal, said the source, who is not authorized to speak for the airlines and requested anonymity. The board of United's parent, UAL, is to meet today. Continental's board is supposed to meet today and Sunday.

A union between Chicago-based United, the third-largest U.S. carrier, and No. 5 Continental, based in Houston, would create the biggest airline in the world. Based on passenger miles flown in 2009, the combination would be about 10% larger than the current world leader, Delta Air Lines.

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Summer Airfare Sales Return

USA Today |  Airlines are rolling out the summer travel bargains as they battle for recession-weary passengers who are slowly returning to the air.

AirTran and Southwest set off the latest flurry with sales that began Monday and were soon matched by American, Delta, US Airways and Continental, says Rick Seaney, CEO of Farecompare.com. It's the fourth round of sales in a month.

But while the sales are coming fast, you may miss out if you wait for the last-minute bargains that travelers got in the depths of the recession.

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U.S.-EU Expand Open Skies Accord

ATLANTA—An aviation agreement that allows airlines to operate flights more freely between the U.S. and Europe is being expanded to include more cooperation between the countries on security and ease of travel.

The Department of Transportation said Thursday the U.S. and European Union agreed to affirm that the terms of the 2007 pact will remain in place indefinitely.

The new agreement also deepens U.S.-EU cooperation on safety and competition, provides greater protections for U.S. carriers from local restrictions on night flights at European airports, and it includes an article on the importance of high labor standards in the airline industry.

DOT did not immediately provide details of the night flights issue or the labor article.

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Airport Device Follows Fliers' Phones

USA Today |  Today's smartphones and PDAs could have a new use in the nation's airports: helping passengers avoid long lines at security checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration is looking at installing devices in airports that home in and detect personal electronic equipment. The aim is to track how long people are stuck in security lines. Information about wait times could then be posted on websites and in airports across the country.

"This technology will produce valuable data that can be used in a variety of ways," TSA spokeswoman Lauren Gaches said, noting it could help prevent checkpoint snarls.

But civil-liberties experts worry that such a system enables the government to track people's whereabouts. "It's serious business when the government begins to get near people's personal-communication devices," said American Civil Liberties Union privacy expert Jay Stanley.

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More Hotels Offer 'Pay Before You Stay' Discounts

USA Today |  Pay before you stay, and save. That has been the deal with online travel sites and discount tour operators. Now, an increasing number of hotels are slashing room rates if you ante up in full in advance and forego a refund if you don't show up.

Last year, Fairmont hotels began offering savings up up to 30% to those who book ahead and pay in full.

Now, "I would say the majority of our hotels offer 'Savers' rates. It's one way we can offer a discount" without cheapening the upscale brand, Fairmont spokeswoman Lori Holland says. Prepaying also guarantees revenue ahead of time: "We know people are coming," she says.

Las Vegas hotels often charge a credit card when a stay is booked. But Station Casinos, with 10 properties in the area including the upscale Red Rock Resort, just announced a tiered, online pre-pay program that offers deep discounts.

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Flight Attendants Union Wants Combat Training

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USA Today | Flight attendants press for hand-to-hand combat training as anti-terror measure The Association of Flight Attendants is pushing Congress to fund combat training as part of a four-point plan that the union says would improve security inside aircraft cabins. The Los Angeles Times reports the union "hopes that lawmakers will include money to put some of their ideas into action under an upcoming funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration."

According to the Times, the attendants' four-point plan includes: "Mandatory hand-to-hand combat training for all crew members"; portable communication devices that would allow attendants to speak with pilots during emergencies; a standard maximum size for carry-on luggage "so that flight attendants can look for suspicious passengers instead of struggling with oversized bags"; and the ability to shut down in-flight Wi-Fi "during high-threat periods to prevent terrorists from communicating with collaborators on the ground."

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Photo courtesy of iStock

State Parks Get Hit in Budgets

201003-b-mtdiablostatepark5jpgUSA Today |  An Arizona road that once led to the ruins of the ancient Hopi Native American civilization now dead-ends at a shut gate.

"Due to budget reductions," a sign reads, "park closed." [....]

Homolovi Ruins officially closed Feb. 22, victim of a state budget deficit that led Arizona lawmakers to cut parks funding last year by 61%.

Homolovi is part of the first in a wave of closures that by June are planned to padlock 21 of the state's 30 parks, leaving people far fewer places to explore the history and beauty of Arizona.

Arizona is one of many states struggling to balance recreational values and budget crises: Lawmakers in at least a dozen states have contemplated the closure of up to 400 state parks this year, according to a National Association of State Park Directors survey, says Philip McKnelly, the association's executive director.

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Photo courtesy of Lyndsey Matthews


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